Fragmented Party System in South Sudan May Undermine North-South Peace Agreement and the Democratic Transformation of Sudan
Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), concluded in Kenya between the government of Sudan (GOS) and Sudan Liberation Movement (SPLM) in January 2005, provides the best opportunity for the first time in more than half a century for creating a more harmonious coexistence between the North and the South and could also pave the way to a peaceful break up of the country should the South vote for separation in a referendum in 2011. But it all depends on successful implementation of CPA. And this is a big if. Here is why.
For once, CPA is a bird of prey of many potential predators lurking by the way side ready to jump and take a bite. Many of the threat are unavoidable, but some of them are self-inflicted, and originate from within South Sudan.
Well-publicised threats include the reluctance by the National Congress Party (the Islamic group that dominates the central government and senior partner in the current government of national unity in which it controls 52% of constitutional posts and the SPLM with 28%) to literal implementation of all the clauses in the agreement, insecurity created by pro-central government militia groups in the South, the ongoing violence in the Darfur region in the west, war in northern Uganda with nasty spill-over into Southern Sudan, the perceived prevalence of high-level corruption in the government of Southern Sudan which continue to erode public confidence in their government, and inter-clan tensions in many Southern states. These are indeed credible and serious threats that are worthy of attention.
Least mentioned in many analyses, however, are the political risks posed by increasingly fragmented party system and culture in South Sudan, in addition to the all too apparent political immaturity. By fragmented political system and culture I mean the dearth of political parties with clear vision, programme of action, sound ideological underpinning, and healthy political mind set (that is, ‘I am in politics to change things, not to get rich or accumulate power’, ‘politics is a war without hate..’, and so on).
At the moment, what go for political parties in the South these days are countless one- or two-men organisations with no visible support base, committed and principled following, well defined membership criteria, not to mention vision or ideology. The result is creation of swarm of globe trotting “freelance” politicians who are accountable to no constituency or party and are certainly up to no good. The great majority of them are those who once held responsible leadership positions and the current climate has not been accommodating to them. Instead of acting like elderly statesmen as we see in more civilised societies for the benefit of all, the “freelance politicians” plant their buddies in government machinery, and then work clandestinely behind the scene to sabotage or exploit the system for personal gains.
This is in stark contrast with the situation in Northern Sudan where party traditions are well rooted even before independence was declared. The same parties that existed in the North in the dawn of Sudan’s independence such as Uma Party of Sadiq Al Mahadi, Democtratic Unionist Party led by Osman Al Merghani, Sudan Communist Party led by Ibrahim Nugud, and Muslim brotherhood movement (founded by Hassen Al Turabi and currently goes by many names including that of the ruling National Congress Party) still exist to very day and many have evolved from minority parties to formidable political forces with huge support base. Even the “young” Darfur region that started to fight for its freedom merely 4 years ago is better politically organised and well advanced in terms of commitment to political organisation as the best route to bringing about a political change. This is not to discount the fact that the actual struggle of people of Darfur has been an on going process since the dawn of the so-called Sudan “independence” in January 1956 when Britain handed power to Arab minority cliques to do as pleased. Anyone following the developments in Darfur will identify at least four organisations: 2 factions of Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) modelled in the fashion of Sudan People Liberation Movement in the South (SPLM), Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), and National Salvation Front (an alliance of Darfur opposition parties headed by veteran Fur politician, Ahmed Abrahim Al Durage). You do not need to dig any deeper to understand where each of these organisations stand on the burning political questions of the day and distinctive selling point. Come to South Sudan and the picture is one of great muddle.
Southern Sudanese-based parties that were founded in 1960s such as Southern Front (SF) and Sudan African Nationalist Union (SANU) have either shrunk to insignificant size or have completely disappeared from political scene. The only legacy left behind is old comradeships or labels passed down family lines, which can be used by some to favour or discriminate against one politician or another. “He is a Front diehard, you know”, is not uncommon whisper.
SANU was left-leaning party while SF was right-leaning (I think). A number of SANU leaders founded and led Anya Nya Movement from 1955 to 1972. They include Joseph Lagu, Joseph Oduoho, Saturlino Ohur, Agre Jaden, William Deng, Sanuel Aru, Benjamin Bol Akok, and Dhol Achuil. SANU in fact was the forerunner SPLM for claiming to fight for the rights of the marginalized people of Sudan in Nuba Mountanisn, Darfur, and Beja in Eastern Sudan in 1960s. The effort came to an abrupt end with the assassination of William Deng in 1967. In fact, William Deng is believed be one of early mentors to Dr. John Garang, the founder of SPLM. Southern Front, on the other hand, stood for separation and independence of Southern Sudan. The leading figures of SF include Clement Mboro, Gordon Muortat, Abel Alier, and Bona Malwal, Petter Gatgkuoth, Gama Hassen and Hillary Paul Logali. SF had no clear strategy for liberating the South.
A friend recently told me in private that Southern Front believes in power. After reflecting on his comments, I came to conclusion that that SANU believed in freedom and the necessity to fight and die for it. Some readers may think that these defunct parties were no more real than mythical dragons and King Kongs. Clearly this would be wrong as these were real parties led by real people. Many leaders are still alive and sound. South Sudan had a better party culture then. No more.
The only exception in this muddled picture, however, is Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM). This is the one political organisation with clear ideology, leadership structures, and to some extends, a political programme. In comparison, SPLM is from the Mars while the great majority of Southern Sudanese parties belong to the Venus. This should not surprise anyone. For over 22 years, Dr. John Garang De Mabior, the founder and former SPLM chairman had rehearsed, articulated, and stuck to the vision of his movement: as fighting for new Sudan. At the core of SPLM vision is a new political dispensation in which power is increasingly devolved from the centre to the periphery in such away as to ensure that all regions of this vast African nation receive their fair share of national cake in terms of power, wealth, and development. That SPLM was and still fighting to bring about a complete political transformation in Sudanese politics that will persuade the Sudanese political forces to embrace and celebrate Sudan’s religious, racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. One could say that SPLM is the ANC answer for Sudan except that ANC in its struggle was more committed to democratic governance as reflected by both the slogans and practice than did SPLM, probably due to the different climate in which SPLM was operating.
This is not to say that SPLM has no weaknesses. There is not a single political entity without room for improvement. Founded in Ethiopia in 1983 as Marxist-Leninist movement, the organisation has been tested by nearly two decades of military and political struggle during which it survived fierce political opposition, criticism for its poor human rights records, suppression of freedom of speech, internal splits and fighting, and finally suffering a tragic loss of Dr John Garang, its founding leader, in a copter crash on a trip from Kampala on 30 July 2005. This was barely three weeks after being sworn in as vice president of Sudan and president of the autonomous government of South Sudan (GOSS). Despite these real challenges and set backs, SPLM emerged much stronger with leadership passing to Salva Kiir, Garang’s long-serving deputy. And since the collapse of communism in the Russia in 1990s, and with strengthening relationships with the US, SPLM Marxist message has been toned down. But the party still retains its socialist roots and vision.
Of course, the manifested dysfunctional party system in Southern Sudan did not originate from vacuum. There are historical events that are partly to blame for what we witness today. In 1969, Numeri May regime came through a military coup. For the next 17 years all political parties were banned and only one party (Sudan Socialist Union, or SSU) was operating. In 1972 South Sudan was granted an autonomous rule. Presidency of the high executive councils and the Southern parliament were unofficially contested between SANU and Southern Front. From 1972 to 1983, some of the elected presidents included Abel Alier (SF), Joseph Lagu (SANU), Joseph Ja,es Tumbura (SANU). In early 1980s, and weary of competition, Southern Front leaders began to advocate for a more collaborative alliance between SANU and SF. The result was USAP (Union of Sudan African Parties). Personally, this was the first nail in the coffin of South Sudanese party system and culture. Ever since, things have never been the same again. And when SPLM was founded in 1983, people from all walks of life and political colours joined. Yet when the sign of power struggle began to show, which was accompanied by terrible abuses of human rights, it is this authors personal opinion that SANU-SF competition played an important part. Many SANU politicians were lynched in the heat of power struggle, while their SF colleagues collaborated in their downfall or looked the other way. To this very day, SANU and SF-leaning elements still push SPLM left and right. Yet there is no evidence that these parties will ever come to the fore and declare themselves. Bad news for democracy and accountability.
I believe this is a very rich and extremely important subject. This short article has not done much justice to it, as I have been obliged to gloss over many sins for the sake of brevity.
However, I would like to conclude by saying that the current political trend is one in which South Sudan is heading towards one party state run by the SPLM. Already we are seeing many Southern politicians leaving their parties behind to join SPLM in hundreds. SPLM leaders may see this as a good thing for their party, but is not necessarily a good thing for the South and for future of democracy in medium and long-term. This would create an environment of groupthink, as many party members would be reluctant to challenge the executive (which would be SPLM led anyway) for fear of loosing their jobs. There would be no credible opposition to SPLM to hold it to account. Political mafia will thrive in the dark and will work to loot the resources of the South. Citizens’ lives will be utter misery, as little development will take place with no one raising the bar higher. Adventurous soldiers will be watching from the distance and thinking: “we have got a good reason to intervene!” And when they do, CPA will be held to ransom.
In order to avoid the above scenario ever developing, the international community must invest heavily in training and encouraging South Sudanese and civil society to foster and embrace political diversity as an indispensable ingredient in a democratic transformation and implementation of CPA. The government of South Sudan must also endeavour to educate the masses about the importance of political diversity, and to device incentives that encourage multiparty system. One practical solution will be to ask the Legislative Assembly to enact a law allowing government funding of political parties, including SPLM itself. Furthermore, intellectuals and civil society should play their part through informing the public and sharpening their political awareness through the media.
Finally, if SPLM leaders believe it is a good thing to be an excellent driver on roads crowded with untrained and illegal drivers, then I wish them good luck and safe journey.